Nutrition for cycling is a controversial topic. Some cyclists rely on vitamin and nutritional supplements for enhanced performance. Other cyclists don’t understand the need for supplements versus food when vitamins and minerals are so plentiful and easy t0 obtain through good nutrition.
The issue of taking or not taking supplements is compounded by the fact that advertising has encouraged cyclist, and everyone else for that matter, to take supplements for supplementation’s sake. It’s best to take a good hard look at what you really need versus what the supplement say’s you need.
The question is: Does vigorous cycling result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies? Generally speaking, the vitamin and mineral needs of active cyclists are no greater than those of couch potatoes. But because some cyclists have jumped on the supplement bandwagon hoping to avoid any possible deficiency in performance, a self-perceived imbalance might have actually caused a lackluster performance. Studies have indicated that bad performance in this instance is likely because of a psychological dependence on supplements.
It’s one thing to follow the recommended daily allowance for supplements, or RDA, which is a common practice for many cyclists. But some believe that while one dose is good, more is better — but that’s not the way it works.
The Mega Dose
The mega dose should be regarded as a problem. Mega doses are levels between 5 and 10 times a normal dose. For the most part, a heavy supplement habit flows right out with your urine when your body excretes what it cannot absorb. Mega doses have not been proven to be beneficial, and may cause toxicity problems. There is a monetary cost to be considered, possible side effects or toxicity, as well as decisions as to optimum dosages. A more rational alternative is to review the research and consult with your doctor, before taking more than the recommended daily allowance of supplements.
What Supplements Do
Before using or not using vitamin and mineral supplements, it’s a good idea to take a look at what cyclists really need to stay healthy and perform at optimum levels.
Nutrient is a broad term that refers to proteins, carbohydrates vitamins, minerals, fats, fiber and a host of other substances. The body is a very effective machine. It produces many of the resources it needs to survive. However, vitamins, minerals, fatty acid and amino acids cannot be manufactured in the body. This is where consumption of food is necessary to promote proper health.
Proteins are necessary for the synthesis of the body’s skeletal, muscle, skin, as well as hormones and enzymes. Contrary to popular belief, proteins are not the primary source of energy, and can actually produce toxic substances when they are converted to simple sugar needed for the body’s energy demand. Cyclists typically eat enough protein to satisfy their body’s requirement. Studies have shown that increased levels of cycling does not cause a significant increase in the body’s daily protein requirement.
Carbohydrates and fats are the body’s primary energy sources. That’s one reasone why the popularity of energy bars has skyrocketed. Carbohydrates are also known as sugars such as fructose, glucose sucrose and lactose. Other more complex sugars are recognized as
breads and pastas, just to name a few. The brain requires glucose for proper functioning. The sugars are easily broken down to help satisfy energy and brain demands and for this reason they are an ideal food during racing and training.
Fats represent the body’s other major energy source. Fats are just over twice as dense in calories as carbohydrates and proteins. Fats are either saturated or unsaturated and studies agree that unsaturated, plant-based types are healthier.
What Supplements are Not
Vitamins are compounds that help the body perform metabolic functions, but do not directly supply energy. As such, they are only catalysts that help to convert fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into energy.
Nutrition is a long term proposition meaning the effects of a vitamin or mineral deficiency take weeks to manifest themselves. What this means is that during a high level of cycling, the primary concern is energy replacement from carbs and fats to avoid hitting the wall.
Because psychological and physiological factors determine performance, most cyclists should eat and drink whatever is proven to make them feel good during a ride. If the vitamin and mineral requirements are being satisfied by the natural intake of healthy food during training, no additional supplements during the performance phase is necessary.
Basically, what all this means is that good nutrition is mostly responsible for your cycling performance. Understanding your own body’s nutrient and energy requirements is important. If you’re eating real food that meets the RDA’s for protein, vitamins and minerals, carbohydrate and fat, then you should be fine to ride, without any supplements.
It is not necessary to get 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance for all vitamins and minerals at every meal. It’s fine to determine which nutritional requirements you wish to satisfy at each meal. Breakfast can be toast and cereal. Make up some of the needs at lunch by eating yogurt, fruit, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Dinner can be the source of your energy; protein, vitamins and minerals with vegetables, pasta, meat and milk. Between meal snacking is also useful to help meet the body’s requirements.
Play it Safe
If you do get off track, bear in mind that you’re not immune to vitamin or mineral deficiencies and they must be satisfied before you can perform at your best. Remember that problems associated with nutrient deficiencies takes a long time to occur. To play it safe, it’s fine to take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement tablet which has no adverse affects when administered at prescribed levels.